Winter has come. The seventh season of Game of Thrones is off and running and with only seven episodes, HBO doesn’t have time to hold our hands and explain things like where characters are, the history of new locations, or how the actions of one character affect the powder keg that is Westeros’ political climate. Luckily, between all of George R.R. Martin’s novels, and The World of Ice and Fire historical tome, there’s plenty of ways to fill in the blanks and we’re here to help. Obviously spoilers will abound, so proceed at your own peril.
In the premiere episode of season seven, “Dragonstone,” the audience spent a lot of time with Samwell Tarly as he literally slopped his way through the Citadel in Oldtown. Sam’s goal is to become the new maester of The Wall, a prestigious assignment that takes decades of learning. There’s a reason most maesters serving the noble houses are old. But Samwell doesn’t have time for this: he has to learn how to stop the White Walkers now before they destroy everything. But why does Oldtown house the Citadel and how did this town in the middle of Highgarden territory come to be the most educated place in all of Westeros?
Before I begin explaining why Oldtown is the most important city in all of Westeros, a word about the ancient history of Game of Thrones. Most of it is passed down through partial runic stones or oral histories, so these aren’t not exactly ironclad sources. Westerosi scholars talk a lot about the “Dawn Age” and the “Age of Heroes,” time periods thousands of years ago when most of the spectacular feats of their people were accomplished and the most notable landmarks created (such as The Wall and Storm’s End). The modern population overlays ideals such as knightly honor atop these stories — much like our own Arthurian legends — despite the fact things like chivalry and a code of honor would not have been the same. With that in mind, on to the legend of Oldtown!
Oldtown predates humans in Westeros by an unknown amount of time. Situated on Battle Isle*, the fortress that would eventually become the skyline-dominating Hightower began life as a squat building of fused oily black stone. The fortress has no seams, no visible signs of construction such as chisel marks, and no windows. Inside is nothing but a series of labyrinthian tunnels allegedly designed to confound intruders. The Battle Isle fortress was there when Oldtown was nothing but a port village, occupied by the Elder Races and a few hardy human traders coming from across the Narrow Sea. No one knows who built it or for what purpose. The oily black stone is seen in a few other ancient constructions in Westeros, including the Seastone Chair used by House Greyjoy and the ruin walls of Moat Cailin. It is possible the oily black stone is variation on dragonglass, but no one has touched a White Walker with it yet.
*No one in Westeros knows why it is called Battle Isle, nor what battle took place there or between whom.